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Northern Cape sets course for progress

An improvement in the quality of the services offered by the public service in the Northern Cape would be a dream come true for Premier Dr Zamani Saul.

The recently elected premier wants public servants to take pride in their work. With September being Public Service Month, Dr Saul called on public servants to do their jobs with diligence, efficiency, thoroughness and in a way that brings dignity to people.

He said state employees must arrive at work punctually and not leave early, adding that the Northern Cape’s residents have pinned their hopes on the provincial government being a catalyst for change. “People are expecting us to do whatever is necessary to try and add value to their quality of life,” he said.

To achieve this goal, Dr Saul has set about putting the province’s people at the centre of his government’s programmes.

Frills cut

Dr Saul said the Northern Cape has the capacity to change its high unemployment and poverty rate but to do so, politicians must forego the trappings of power which cause a social distance between the people of the province and those they voted into power.

Consequently, he announced a raft of changes that show he is serious about establishing a capable state machinery in the Northern Cape.

Since taking over the reins in May, Dr Saul stopped the purchase of new vehicles for MECs and instead chose to buy ambulances for the province’s public hospitals. He barred the use of blue lights by members of his cabinet and halted the hanging of photographs of himself and his colleagues on the walls of government buildings.

In addition, he put the premier’s official residence up for sale to raise money for educating the province’s youth.

He said the moves would hopefully close the trust deficit that has formed between the people, the public service and their political representatives.

In another first and in an effort to identify the challenges residents face, Dr Saul set up a desk in the reception area of the province’s only tertiary hospital, the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital. This, he said, afforded him the chance to engage with patients directly and find out what their experiences in the hospital had been like.

As a result of these interactions, Dr Saul said he instructed his health MEC, Galerekwe Mase Manopole, to immediately fill the vacancies in the provincial Department of Health. The long queues and administrative challenges he encountered at the hospital also prompted him to announce the implementation of a digital filing system for the province’s hospitals.

When it comes to corruption, he said perpetrators should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law while whistle-blowers should enjoy full protection from the state.

A better standard of living

On top of fixing the province’s public service, Dr Saul wants to see the eradication of poverty and unemployment in the Northern Cape. He said the province currently has a 26 percent unemployment rate, of which 50 percent is young people.

“I always raise the issue that 54 percent of households in the province are poor households, the highest in the country.

“Basically, those are the socio-economic challenges that are confronting us and the state has to play the catalyst role to ensure that we address those challenges,” Dr Saul told PSM.

He said putting the poor at the centre of his government’s administration will become the norm and he hopes that as a result, when his term of office ends, the household poverty rate will have dropped to under 30 percent and unemployment to under 15 percent.

Dr Saul said his administration plans on taking full advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to improve the public service offerings of the Northern Cape. This would make it possible to deliver services in the small seaport village of Port Nolloth with the same speed as they do in Kimberley.

“We need a modern province with a high degree of connectivity. The use of technology to deliver services would make our lives much easier so what we are saying is that we will use technology to close the space,” he said.

Dr Saul believes that once the public service is able to deliver quality basic services, the Northern Cape will be able to attract companies wishing to invest in the area’s natural resources. This would lead to the formation of industries that need skilled workers and help combat the current bleeding of skilled and experienced personnel to other provinces.

The Premier said he is concerned about the lack of skills among the youth of the province but said a skills plan is in place to ensure youngsters are more responsive to the needs of potential investors.

The Northern Cape, Dr Saul said, has massive opportunities for unskilled and semi-skilled labour. He said though the province had recorded job losses in the skilled jobs category, there was growth in the unskilled and semi-skilled labour sector.

Dr Saul said a report had recently shown that there is an increase in employment in the Northern Cape for semi-skilled and unskilled workers. “Over the past three years, we have lost over 6 000 jobs in the category of skilled workers. The reason for that is a reflection of the structure of our economy in the Northern Cape. The biggest contributor to our GDP is agriculture and mining. Agriculture and mining need more semi-skilled and unskilled workers.”

The former Pixley ka Seme municipal manager said to attract potential investments, the state has to get the basics right. Dr Saul said that things such as potholes and a need for additional good public schools and hospitals were turning away potential investors. As such, these are the things he wants to see improve immediately.

The province has 150 operational mines but this number could grow by another 450 if the mining licences issued by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy are operationalised, Dr Saul said. He said if half of the licences were operationalised, over 70 000 jobs could be created in the Northern Cape alone.

Education and training are all-important

Dr Saul is very passionate about education. He has a Doctorate in Law, Constitutional Law and Jurisprudence, from the University of the Western Cape; and in January this year started studying towards a Doctorate of Philosophy in Multi-Disciplinary Studies.

He recently led Kimberley-based senior government managers and volunteers on a door-to-door campaign to find unemployed matriculants. Of the 400 youngsters identified, 90 started their training at a technical and vocational education and training college in July.

Dr Saul said his administration is planning on establishing a state-owned construction company which would train young people in artisan skills.

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